Sun, 08 Dec 2019

Rocketman

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Screenplay: Lee Hall
Stars: Taron Egerton (Elton John), Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin), Richard Madden (John Reid), Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila), Gemma Jones (Ivy), Steven Mackintosh (Stanley), Tom Bennett (Fred), Matthew Illesley (Young Reggie), Kit Connor (Older Reggie), Charlie Rowe (Ray Williams), Peter O'Hanlon (Bobby), Ross Farrelly (Cyril), Evan Walsh (Elton Dean), Tate Donovan (Doug Weston)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2019
Country: U.K. / U.S. / Canada
Rocketman 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Rocketman

The comparisons between the musical biopics Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) are inevitable, so let's go ahead and get them out of the way. First, they are both big-studio projects about iconic British gay rock stars-Elton John and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, respectively-who had astronomical rises to stardom amid the glitz, glamor, and hedonisms of the early '70s trans-Atlantic rock scene. Both films follow traditional rise-and-fall-and-rise-again trajectories as their outsider, misunderstood protagonists, who emerge from humble working-class backgrounds, become major stars and then fall prey to sex, drugs, and narcissism, not to mention predatory managers with whom they fall in love only to be used and abused. And both films were directed by Dexter Fletcher-sort of. While he is the credited director of Rocketman, his name is nowhere to be found on Bohemian Rhapsody even though it is widely known he stepped in for Bryan Singer, the credited director.

Now, for the differences, and they are significant and lie at the heart of why Rocketman is a substantially better film. While Bohemian Rhapsody was an overly conventional biopic, following Mercury's life and rooting the narrative in the creation of each of Queen's hit songs, which created a repetitive rhythm that quickly grew tiresome, Fletcher and screenwriter Lee Hall (Billy Elliott, War Horse) take Rocketman in a much different direction. While it still adheres primarily to a chronological recounting of Elton John's life from his childhood through the early 1990s, it makes the bold move of telling much of his life story through musical numbers that blur reality and fantasy. We get all the "greatest hits" moments of Elton's (born Reggie Dwight) life, from his childhood with a chilly, distant father (Steven Mackintosh) and a self-obsessed mother (Bryce Dallas Howard), to his friendship/brotherhood with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), to his ill-fated relationship with John Reid (Richard Madden), a suave but brashly amoral producer/manager with whom Elton becomes romantically and professionally involved, only to have his heart crushed. The film tells the familiar tale of stardom as a mask to hide pain, which is all the more obvious in Elton John's career given his penchant for wild stage costumes, but it works because Taron Egerton, who previously starred in Fletcher's Eddie the Eagle (2015) as another shy misfit who proves his doubters wrong, sells the pain behind the glitz and the glory.

Interestingly, the film begins with Elton at his lowest, which is the opposite of Bohemian Rhapsody, which opens with Freddie Mercury's triumphant march onto the stage at 1985's Live Aid concert, where he and Queen delivered one of their truly immortal performances. Rocketman begins in what appears to be similar fashion, with Elton striding dramatically down a hallway in slow motion, wearing one of his most outlandish costumes (an orange and gold demon suit, complete with horns and massive wings), only to walk into a support group, where he sits down and immediately confesses to being an alcoholic, a cocaine addict, a sex addict, a shopping addict, and a bulimic. That support group, a fantasy version of the real rehab that Elton used to dry out in the early 1990s, becomes the film's structuring device, with Elton narrating his life story to a group of mostly silent fellow addicts.

It is at this point that we get the first taste of Rocketman's conceptual daring, as we are introduced to Elton's five-year-old self (Matthew Illesley) in his Pinner, Middlesex neighborhood leading a searing rendition of "The Bitch Is Back." We will get similar musical sequences throughout the film, with "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" dramatizing Elton's late teenage self (Kit Connor) navigating the rough-and-tumble world of blue-collar pubs as a rising piano player and the titular "Rocketman" scoring a drug overdose and suicide attempt. The musical sequences, which often turn into fully choreographed fantasies that nonetheless convey the essence of Elton's life at that point (the fact that the lyrics don't always fit is irrelevant since it's the feeling of the song that matters, not the literal words), are some of the film's highpoints, and they are at the heart of Rocketman's effectiveness. All biopics are fantasies of one kind or another; Rocketman has the daring to wear it on its cinematic sleeve.

Rocketman 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Copy
Aspect Ratio2.39:1
Audio

  • English Dolby Atmos surround
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Hindi, Korean, Malay, Mandarin, Thai
    Supplements

  • Four extended musical numbers
  • Ten deleted and extended scenes
  • "It's Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision" featurette
  • "Becoming Elton John: Taron's Transformation" featurette
  • "Larger Than Life: Production Design & Costuming" featurette
  • "Full Tilt: Staging the Musical Numbers" featurette
  • "Music Reimagined: The Studio Sessions" featurette
  • "Rocketman Lyric Companion: Sing-Along with Select Songs (The Bitch Is Back, I Want Love, Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting), Your Song, Crocodile Rock, Tiny Dancer, Honky Cat, Rocket Man, Bennie and the Jets, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I'm Still Standing)
  • "Rocketman Jukebox Jump Straight to the Music feature
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateAugust 27, 2019

    COMMENTS
    Rocketman looks duly impressive in its 4K UHD presentation, which offers impressive clarity, detail, and depth in the images. The film was shot digitally in 3.4K resolution and then completed in a 2K workflow, which means that the image here is actually an up-res from what we saw in theaters. There is a wide range of colors and textures throughout the film, from the relatively drab browns and grays of Elton's working-class childhood, to the intense, saturated hues of his various stage costumes, all of which are beautifully rendered. Quite a bit of the film takes place in dark locations, especially near the beginning, and the transfer sports great shadow detail and deep blacks. The Dolby Atmos mix is a genuinely knock-out, with amazing depth and detail in the music numbers, which quickly envelop you. Dialogue is always clear and there is a careful balance of fine, nuanced sonic detail in the quieter scenes, as well.

    In terms of supplements, we get five making-of featurettes that each run about 8 minutes in length and feature interviews with directed Dexter Fletcher and star Taron Egerton, among others: "It's Going to Be a Wild Ride: Creative Vision," "Becoming Elton John: Taron's Transformation," "Larger Than Life: Production Design & Costuming," "Full Tilt: Staging the Musical Numbers," and "Music Reimagined: The Studio Sessions." There aren't particularly deep, but they offer some interesting insight into the film's production and behind-the-scenes footage. There are also four extended musical numbers (each with an introduction by Fletcher): "The Bitch Is Back," "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)," "Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache," and "Honky Cat." We also get 10 extended and deleted scenes that are introduced by Fletcher, as well. Finally, we get a sing-along option with 13 songs from the film and a jukebox option in which you can jump straight to any one of the musical numbers.

    Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

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